The food — largely snack items such as Moon Pies, potato chips and animal crackers — was donated through Food City by dozens of the regional grocery chain’s vendors. And volunteers gathered — as has been the tradition for 24 years — outside the Food City store on Eastman Road for the “packing party.”
In addition to Food City employees, participants ranged from families who have made helping pack for the train an annual tradition to individuals, schools and local civic groups. Some have been coming for years. For others, it was a first, and perhaps only, time to lend a hand.
The process is one example of how the train has grown since its first run in the 1940s.
The CSX Santa Train will make its 75th 110-mile run through rural Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee Saturday distributing gifts, toys, food and winter clothing to families along the route.
Kentucky native and bluegrass music legend Ricky Skaggs will join Santa Claus, CSX and event partners Food City, the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, Appalachian Power and Soles4Souls on the train for this milestone anniversary.
When the train first began and for many of its early years, a handful of local businessmen boarded a regular passenger train and kept Santa stocked with simple items like pencils and writing tablets to toss to children along the train’s route. Hard candies were hand-mixed on the train as it made its journey.
That’s evolved into what is estimated this year to be a 17-ton payload, including the food items packed Wednesday, plush toys Santa and his helpers will toss from the train only at 14 stops along the route, other toys, fresh fruit and winter clothing. Rather than tossing the small food items into the crowds, as in past years, the 10,000 plastic bags of mixed items will be handed off to people at each stop by volunteers who disembark from the train and wind through the crowds.
The bags of food were packed into plastic tote boxes and loaded onto a truck. They will be transferred to the Santa Train on Thursday.